Beyond smoking scenes on China's TV screens

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Smoking pipes, tobacco threads, cigarettes, and dazzling smoking gestures, which are commonly seen on China's TV screens, have emerged as a clear concern for many supporters of tobacco control.

Xinhua reporters, while monitoring seven Chinese television channels, spotted 49 screen shots of smoking from four TV series being aired from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Jan. 4.

Of those smoking scenes, some last less than one second while others went on for as long as five seconds.

However, these findings were only a small part of the picture.

The China Association on Tobacco Control (CATC), a non-profit organization, issued a report in August 2010 after monitoring 40 domestic Chinese movies and 30 local TV series.

The results indicated that smoking scenes appeared in 31 movies, with an average of 15 screen shots, while smoking scenes were found in 28 TV series, with an average of 85 such screen shots.

Yang Gonghuan, director of the National Office for Tobacco Control, said though smoking scenes on TV could not be fully counted as tobacco advertisements, they could easily mislead adolescents and leave them without a correct understanding as to what harm tobacco is responsible for.

"A decrease in such screen shots will be good for protecting the young from tobacco," Yang said.

According to a survey by Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was conducted among 11,000 middle school students, over 40 percent of the surveyed students thought that smoking could make actors look mature and charming, while nearly 60 percent of the students supported or did not object to smoking scenes on screen.

What's is worrisome to many tobacco control activists is that the smoking attitude of the figures on screen could, to some extent, encourage the young to follow the fashion.

The Beijing Municipal CDC survey also showed that 32.87 percent of the middle school students said they would like to try smoking after seeing actors smoke on TV. Further, 60 percent of senior students at vocational high schools reported that they could follow the fashion, especially when the actors who smoke on TV are superstars.

Besides appearing in movies and TV series, tobacco also took another form while appearing on China's screens.

Xinhua reporters, during their Jan. 4 research, also found some of China's major tobacco brands, such as Hongta, are promoting their brand images through advertisements that mentioned no tobacco, but only the brand names.

Though tobacco advertisements are banned on China's radio, TV and print media, China still has no concrete laws and regulations to prohibit tobacco companies from sponsoring activities such as auto racing, Yang said.

Yang said China's failure to prevent tobacco companies from doing publicity via sponsoring events also kept it far from meeting the requirements of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which called for tighter measures in such promotions.

The CATC said it has submitted proposals to Chinese authorities calling for creation of films and TV series free of smoking scenes and banning all forms of product or image promotion of tobacco brands.

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